The fish hit my Clouser streamer fly as it sank at the end of a long cast. I was waist deep, wading off Thomas Point and had not seen any action that evening. Surprised, I cinched the fish up and had it quickly on the reel. The rascal realized its predicament and began to take drag as it made its first run.
I judged it was a rockfish. But this fish acted differently. There was not a lot of head-shaking, just a firm surging run, first in one direction, then another.
The yellow perch run this spring is mostly poor. Commercial catches have stalled at half their allocation: not a good sign. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has undertaken a study in Maryland rivers to find out why the yellows are having so much trouble reproducing.
Light geese, conservation season: thru April
Finally, as I drew it closer, the fish broached. In the failing light, I caught a flash of fluorescent violet across its silvery flank. A few minutes later it came to hand, and my suspicions were confirmed. It was a spotted seatrout, or spec, just about the most handsome fish that swims the Tidewater.
Carefully, I removed the hook from its bright yellow-lined mouth, taking care to avoid the needle-sharp fangs in the front of its delicate jaws. This fish is also called a spotted weakfish because of its soft mouth tissue. It has to be fought gently, so it is an ideal gamefish for the long rod.
Long Time No See
I didn’t know it then, but I wouldn’t encounter another like it in the Bay for more than 20 long years. Specs are a notoriously cyclic fish, and the Chesapeake is at the very northern edge of their range. For the most part, they vanished from our waters.
Now they are back in good numbers, at least in the more southerly Bay, and last year was one of the best in memory. Prompted by the Coastal Conservation Association, the Department of Natural Resources is planning on keeping them around in the best manner imaginable.
Spotted seatrout will be protected from over-harvest in Bay waters and managed as a trophy fishery. The minimum recreational size will be raised in 2014 to 16 inches (from 14 inches this season) and the sport harvest limit reduced to four fish (currently 10). Anglers can expect to encounter bigger fish and more of them in the future.
Commercial landings, now unlimited, will also be capped at 100 pounds a day per individual license. The limit shouldn’t pose a problem, even for watermen, because they haven’t reported catches of that size in well over a decade.
Curiously the resurgence of this species began with a natural disaster in their mid-range waters. A massive fish kill of the species occurred a few years ago in North Carolina when an unseasonably severe freeze trapped them in shallow water. Emergency restrictions were immediately adopted to rebuild the stocks.
Spotted seatrout are prolific, reproduction beginning at 11 months of age. Those wise restrictions were kept in place, followed by some exceptional spawns, and over the last two years their numbers have exploded. The specs have pushed up into areas that had not seen them in a long time; thus their presence in the Chesapeake.
DNR’s Spotted Seatrout Management Plan doesn’t guarantee the fish’s continued expansion into our waters, according to marine biologist Rick Morin. Events in Virginia and North Carolina have a much greater impact on the seatrout’s population than anything Maryland can do.
Watermen Behaving Badly
In Anne Arundel County, Joshua Alther, 38, of Edgewater was charged Feb. 6 with possession of 18 striped bass during closed season.
In Baltimore County, Kenneth Foote, 51, of Middle River, was charged Feb. 6 with possessing and using unmarked gill nets and possessing undersized striped bass.
In Dorchester County, James Albert Faulkner Jr., 51, of Linkwood, was charged Feb. 13 with power-dredging in the Choptank River. Six bushels of oyster were returned to Maryland waters.
In Queen Anne County, Deny Coursey, 37 of Centreville, was charged Feb. 4 with possessing undersized oysters.
In Somerset County, Danny Tyler, 47, of Tylerton, was charged Feb. 7 with possession of undersized oysters. Joseph Janda Jr., 27, of Wittman, was charged Feb. 22 with engaging in oyster activity with a revoked license. Janda’s record is full, with 75 citations.
In Talbot County, Keith Eric Thomas, 40, of Stevensville, was charged Feb. 11 with harvesting oysters from an oyster sanctuary of the Tred Avon River. This is his second violation of the year.